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Time: Basic Concepts to Help Learn How to Tell the Time

In today’s post, we’re going to talk about time. It’s one of the first experiences that children have with mathematics in a very natural way, but can be a very complicated concept if they don’t have previous knowledge and skills to help them understand.

Two of the basic skills they need are:

  • Counting to 60. They’ll need to be able to do this to understand minutes.


  • Count in 5’s.


Once they are able to count to 60 and to count in 5’s independently, we can start working with the clock. Ideally, children should make their own clock… it’s very simple: a plastic or cardboard plate, some markers, and cardboard to make the hands.

The clock:

At first, it’s best to focus on ensuring the child understands the significance of each hand:


When we start playing with the clock, first of all, we teach the hours, before we start moving the minute hand five minutes at a time: 5, 10, 15, 20, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, 55. Once they’ve played with the clock for a while, and understand what each hand indicates, we can teach them quarters; a quarter of an hour, half an hour, and three-quarters of an hour.

At the same time, we can show them the time on a digital clock, which helps simplify the exercise since the exact minutes are shown in number form.


Since the numbers on an analog clock only go up to 12 and a day consists of 24 hours, when we read the time in analog we need to add “am” or “pm” to indicate the correct time.

By contrast, the digital clock offers two options. It can show the time in 24-hours or in 12-hours, in which case the screen will show the acronyms: A.M or P.M.

  • Digital 12 hours:
    • A.M.: Before midday (from the Latin ante meridiem)
    • P.M.: After midday (from the Latin post meridiem)

For example:

Mary and Teresa are going to celebrate their birthdays and they are going to send out invitations. The invitations have the same time on them, but the letters A.M and P.M are different. One of them is going to have her party in the morning, and the other one in the evening.


  • 24 digital clock: When the number that appears on the screen is bigger than 12, we subtract 12 from the number and the result gives us the correct time.

For example:Time

And there you have a few basic concepts to help your child to read and understand the time.

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